AUSTIN (Nexstar) — New polling out Wednesday shows U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s approval rating among Texas voters increased from a net negative to a net positive, as the incumbent senator gets his first major Democratic challenger for his seat in 2024.

Pollsters from the Texas Politics Project asked 1,254 registered voters about the job Cruz is doing. Up from a February poll, 45% said they approve of his job performance and 41% disapprove.

It comes as U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, (D-Dallas), announced Wednesday he will be challenging the junior senator for reelection.

The third-term congressman and former NFL linebacker made his announcement in a three-minute video posted to his social media accounts. In the launch video, Allred talks about his upbringing of being raised by a single mom and his record in Congress, while accusing Cruz of not working in the best interest of Texans.

“We deserve a senator whose team is Texas and Ted Cruz only cares about himself, you know that,” Allred said in the video. “He wants to divide us to get people to fear their neighbors.”

Nexstar was able to interview Cruz on Wednesday, but it is worth noting we were instructed the senator could not respond to campaign questions in the U.S. Capitol due to Senate rules. According to the Senate Ethics Committee, “campaign-related interviews may not be scheduled, arranged, or conducted using any official resources, including official staff time.”

Capitol Correspondent Monica Madden did, however, ask Cruz to respond to his poll numbers and general criticism from Democrats like Allred, who accuse the senator of focusing too much on culture war issues.

“You can always expect Democrats to be attacking and to be criticizing, I can tell you what my priorities are. And there are three things — jobs, freedom and security,” Cruz told Nexstar. “The reason those are my priorities is those are the top priorities for Texans.”

Cruz ties Cleveland, Texas shooting to immigration policy

Cruz joined other Texas Republican leaders in their response to last weekend’s Cleveland shooting that left five dead, saying it would not have happened if the suspect, an immigrant, hadn’t been able to enter the U.S.

Francisco Oropeza is the 38-year-old Mexican national suspected of killing five Honduran people inside their home northeast of Houston. On Monday, immigration officials said Oropeza had been previously deported four times, although his current status is unknown. Critics argued that framing fuels prejudice of immigrants, and the victims’ immigration statuses have not been confirmed.

When asked to respond to that criticism, Cruz doubled down on his previous remarks on his podcast, in which he said this tragedy was a result of the Biden administration’s “open border policies.”

“It’s not surprising that Democrats don’t want to bear responsibility for their disastrous policies,” he said. “I’m also angry that this crime happened in the first place because this individual should never have been in Texas to begin with…when you allow gang members and murderers and rapists to come into this country illegally, the result is tragic. And Cleveland, Texas saw that.”

State Democrats like Sen. Roland Gutierrez — who is also seen as a likely challenger to Cruz — denounced the rhetoric, saying it is a distraction from conversations about gun violence.

Cruz said the Cleveland gunman still should have never been able to legally obtain the rifle he used anyway.

“It’s illegal for illegal immigrants to possess any firearm and that’s one of the real problems with the Democrat approach to crime is, inevitably when there is a crime, their solution is not to focus on the criminals…it’s to try to disarm law-abiding citizens to try to take away the ability for you to keep your children safe in your home,” Cruz said.

Other possible Senate contenders

In April, a source who works with Gutierrez told Nexstar that the Democrat is considering challenging Cruz, but will not make a formal announcement about his decision until the end of the Texas Legislative session this month.

While Democratic strategists had also floated Julián Castro — former U.S. housing secretary and San Antonio mayor — as a possible contender. Castro’s spokesperson Sawyer Hackett confirmed that he does not plan to run for U.S. Senate in Texas, leaving Gutierrez as the only other likely candidate so far.